Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), like Robert Schumann, was both a composer and a music critic. Surprisingly for a composer, he had no competence as a pianist. His two instruments were flute and guitar, and he was only able to fumble his way through a few chords on the piano. It was the orchestra above all that interested him. Indeed, he not only wrote orchestral music, he wrote about it – one of his most significant publications is the orchestration manual, Grand traité d’instrumentation et d’orchestration modernes. Berlioz also had a great love for vocal music. In addition to a large body of songs and choral works, he wrote for the stage, including the epic five-act opera Les Troyens (The Trojans). One of his boldest creations was Symphonie fantastique, a ‘programmatic symphony’ composed in 1830. Among the innovative features of the work is the use of a theme – an idée fixe – which appears in some form or another in all of the work’s five movements. The idée fixe is not so much a structural device as a programmatic one – it signifies a figure (‘the beloved’) who is the object of desire of the protagonist of the symphony, a young artist in love. Controversially, Berlioz prepared a written account of the symphony’s ‘story’ which was distributed to audience members for ease of listening.

© Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra